We’re on our fifth year of making our own maple syrup in the backyard and still loving it! In no particular order, here are ten reasons we think this hobby is so great.
1. Making Maple Syrup Saves March from Being the WORST Month Ever
Whoever first said “April is the cruelest month,” must have known about sugaring season. Because without it, we really think March would edge it out for the win. First the skiing goes bad, then the weather becomes super unreliable, and then, for reasons beyond understanding, we all self-submit to the inconvenience of daylight savings time. This is all followed by the soggy mess of mud season, the bleak landscape left by the receding snow, and the knowledge that warm-weather activities (for me, gardening) are still very, very far away.
Enter backyard maple sugaring. You tap the trees in high winter, watch the ground appear through the snow during the daily early-spring ritual of collecting and storing sap, and spend every weekend outside boiling it down to something truly spectacular. Sugaring takes a ton of time and effort, and we think this is probably as it should be. For how else could we distract ourselves until the time of daffodils?
2. Being in the Woods is Healthy
We know it in our souls, but we also know it in our science: being in the woods is good for your physical and mental health. Sugaring requires you to traverse your woods daily for several weeks at a time when you might not otherwise be inspired to do so (see above). No gym membership? No problem. Sugaring is mother nature’s spring cross-training program!
3. Maple Syrup is Healthy
Not only is the activity healthy, but the end product is healthy as well. Maple is a mineral-rich, less processed alternative to sugar. A healthy diet uses sweeteners sparingly, even maple syrup. What better way to inspire stoicism than to expend the effort to make it from scratch?
4. Sugaring Connects Us to the Past and to the Future
Many of us backyard sugar makers come from families or neighborhoods where we were exposed to maple sugaring in our youth – by a grandparent, a neighbor or friend. Some of us have ancestors who harvested maple for subsistence. Sugaring with our children, grandchildren and friends is a great way to pass that cultural tradition on.
5. Kids Love Making Maple Syrup
This may be a near-universal truth. The fun of hanging, checking and dumping buckets of sap, feeding the fire while it boils, and of course, taste testing your batch early and often, are endlessly fascinating for children. Do you have a curious child who is wondering what it’s like? Check out some of these great titles for kids on making maple syrup at home.
6. There’s So Much to Learn About Maple
Whether it’s tree biology, the geography of backyard sugar making, the origins of maple syrup, or how climate change is affecting the sugar woods, there are lifetimes of things to learn about maple, even after you’ve gotten proficient at making the syrup itself!
7. Maple is Delicious
How do we enjoy maple? Let us count the ways. It’s now a family ritual to drink the first run of sap straight from the tree, or heat it up for tea. We bake with maple, we preserve with maple, we pantry-cook with maple, we grill with maple, and we smoke with maple. We’ve even brewed beer with maple sap. Next up, “maple mead” (of the unfortunate actual name: acerglyn)?
8. Sugaring is Social
When not distancing for health, of course, making maple syrup in the open air is a great way to get together with family and friends. Sugaring takes lots of physical work, and you have to pay attention to your boil at all times. But it’s light on the brain. This makes for a great collective captivity and is complemented by activities like gabbing, splitting wood, and sharing a favorite adult beverage or two.
9. You Get Better at Sugaring Over Time
Maple syrup is easy to make, but takes practice to perfect. Every year we get a little better at keeping the fire at the right temperature and adding the sap at the right rate. And every year we add a tool that makes it easier to make it to a high-quality finished product: a thermometer here, a filter there. This year, we are trying a home reverse osmosis unit, for example. Will that result in lighter syrup in less time? We’ll be sure to report back on that!
10. Homemade Maple Syrup Makes Great Gifts
Would you like to have your holiday shopping finished in April? Take up backyard sugaring. Everyone loves the gift of homemade maple syrup, which is shelf stable for two years if preserved correctly (not hard to do).